Queer Mormons: Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Jul 22nd, 2007 | By | Category: Uncategorized

by J. Tyler Baldwin

Being a queer American isn’t easy. In many parts of the country, American homosexuals are regularly subjected to discrimination, insults, and violence. But this pressure can be intensified for those were are queers and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – Mormons.

Mormon homosexuals face the same degree discrimination and inequality as other queers in America, however, the strain of walking a very fine line can take its toll as they consider the dangers of losing long-established relationships with family, friends, and a church leadership who sees their natural orientation as an abnormal, vile, disgusting abomination.

Gay Mormons live with the fear of losing so much because their faith is not just a religion, but a well-established way of life that brings family and faith together for eternity. One of the basic foundations of the Mormon way of life is the belief that family ties can transcend death itself. For the faithful to lose family ties in this life is brutal, but the threat of losing family and for all eternity is horrendous.

Mormons coming to grips with their sexual orientation face a double-edged sword – the threat of abandonment by those they love, and the precarious relationship with non-Mormons within the queer population who lack understanding.

Church leadership generally takes the position that homosexuality is a choice. Those how are known or suspected of being homosexual have a choice, get “fixed” or go. Queer Mormons face excommunication and reticule. The message is clear – God will never accept such “selfish perversion.”

God, the church, and the Mormon faithful share a common stance that homosexuality is completely immoral and debased. In short, the Mormon Church’s stance on God’s view of homosexuality seems to be: “Better dead than gay.”

Once excluded from the church and alienated by loved ones, homosexual Mormons may turn to the gay community itself for support and find themselves either not accepted or not understood. Meanwhile, most people are baffled by the idea that it’s possible to be gay and remain a follower of the Mormon Church.

This is a religion with a track record for showing intolerance, prejudice, and discrimination in the past by denying African Americans, while promoting subservience of women. The Mormon Church which once supported polygamy openly, fights aggressively against same sex marriages.

According to the church, homosexuality is a choice. To be truly devout, homosexuals are expected to submit to a form of “therapy” allegedly designed to make someone heterosexual.

The Politics of Faith
The notion of separation of church and state is appears irrelevant among church officials who openly fight same sex marriages with political and financial support.

The number of gay Mormons is unknown. But according to Carroll O’Donovan, gay activist and former member of the LDS Church, “A 1992 independent survey conducted on campus on sexuality at Brigham Young University found that some 15 percent of the male students and 12 percent of the female students had a homosexual experience while at BYU.”

Of course, these numbers cannot be accurately applied to the entire Mormon population, but they do indicate that a significant number of queers are involved with the Mormon Church, and given that their Church condemns them as loudly and hatefully as it does, we can assume that they are at even greater risk for debilitating depression and suicide.

Gay Mormons at Risk
Early on the morning of February 25, 2000, a young, gay Mormon went to the LDS Stake Center in Los Altos, California, and put a bullet through his head. Stuart Matis had struggled for years with his “internalized homophobia,” and was deeply disturbed by the aggressive political campaign his church had waged against gays and their right to marry. The pressures of being true to himself while struggling to be a good Mormon finally overcame him.

“I simply could not live another day choking on my own feelings of inferiority,” he wrote in a suicide letter to his parents. A few weeks later, on March 9, 2000, a 33-year old man by the name of David James (DJ) Thompson also shot himself in the head in his apartment near Kingman, Arizona, for many of the same reasons.

Suicide attempts by gay Mormons are not at all uncommon, according to a recent online survey conducted by Affirmation.org. The organization, with 33 chapters worldwide, is one of only a handful of groups dedicated to providing “a supportive environment for relieving the needless fear, guilt, self-oppression and isolation that LDS gays and lesbians can experience.”

The results of Affirmation’s May 2000 survey are astounding and sobering – fully 57 percent of the gay Mormon respondents admitted to thoughts of, or attempts, at suicide.

Affirmation.org is one small light in the darkness for queer members of the Mormon Church, offering them fellowship, support and understanding, encouraging spirituality, influencing Church leaders in their treatment and perception of homosexual church members, and providing gay and lesbian Mormons positive opportunities for social, intellectual, emotional and cultural development.

Yet with all the positive benefits Affirmation.org can provide those who seek them out, gay Mormons still struggle. They still contemplate, and commit, suicide in appalling numbers.

Queer Solidarity
Stuart Matis and DJ Thompson are just two of the many gay suicide victims tallied in this country each year, but they represent an important subset of the GBLT community that we cannot ignore or forget. Gay Mormons must be welcomed and encouraged to become part of the larger GBLT community, just as gay Muslims and gay Jews and gay agnostics are accepted.

To discriminate against them for their choice of religion is just as damning as discriminating against them for being queer, and as a group, the gay community simply cannot afford to alienate or discriminate against prospective members or supporters.
The last words of Stuart Matis were written to his parents, but they contain wisdom the GBLT community should heed, as well:

“Seek to understand first before you make comments. We have the same needs as you. We desire to love and be loved. We desire to live our lives with happiness. We are not a threat to you or your families. We are your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbors, co-workers and friends, and most importantly, we are all children of God.”


HENRY STUART MATIS
(1967-2000)

On February 25, 2000, Stuart Matis drove to the LDS chapel in Los Altos, California, and took his life. He was frustrated by the efforts by the LDS Church to pass Proposition 22, and he felt that he could not reconcile his religion and his homosexuality.

He was 32 years old. Stuart’s brother Bill wrote: “To hose who feel that my brother was no better than a murderer or an adulterer, I would like to say that the murderer and adulterer choose to be what they are. t My brother didn’t choose to be homosexual any more than you or I chose the color of our skin. Many who knew him say that he was one of the most Christ-like people they had ever met. He was a son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin and true friend.” Words by Stuart: “I implore the students at BYU [Brigham Young University] to re-assess their homophobic feelings. Seek to understand first before you make comments. We have the same needs as you. We desire to love and be loved. We desire to live our lives with happiness. We are not a threat to you or your families. We are your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbors, co-workers and friends, and most importantly, we are all children of God.”


BRIAN DJ HYER THOMPSON
(1967-2000)

Brian David James Hyer Thompson was born on June 22, 1967. During his life he was intensely involved in the LDS Church, Affirmation (Gay and Lesbian Mormons), and the community at large. After serving a Mormon mission in Seattle, he returned to Utah, where he was elected president of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans and participated in several gay and lesbian organizations. He was very frustrated over the LDS Church’s involvement with Proposition 22 in California and the recent suicide of Stuart Matis. Words by DJ: “It is unfortunate that the lives of good people such as Stuart Matis, Matthew Shepherd, and many others go unnoticed. I see Proposition 22 as a last straw in my life-long battle to see peace in the world I live in.”


CLAY DOUGLASS WHITMER
( 19?? -2000)
Whitmer, left, with friend Matis

Clay Douglass Whitmer was an incredibly intelligent person. He had an M.B.A. and a J.D. Clay had been involved with Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons as a member of the San Francisco chapter. Clay had a very complicated relationship with his parents, and they have decided not to memorialize his life or death. Clay committed suicide in the San Francisco Bay Area a few weeks after his friend Stuart Matis. Stuart was Clay’s very dear friend. They went to BYU together and served Mormon missions together in Italy. He wrote in his suicide note that he wanted to say good-bye to all his friends and to apologize for the pain he knew he would cause them.

Many thanks to Affrimation.org for providing these photos and stories of these wonderful men we lost because of intolerance. We also want to thank Affrimation.org for all the important and hard work they do for our LDS community. These are unfortunately only a few of the stories that can be found in the Gay Mormon Suicides Memorial.

This article originally appeared in The Catalyst, April 2001 issue. The Catalyst was a short run alternative Boise area monthly publication.



PrideDEPOT.com editor, independent journalist & LGBT media spokesperson,
Jody May-Chang now writes on "As I See It...Reporting from the front lines

As I See It Jody May-Chang.com Reporting from the front lines


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